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Issue #1602      July 17, 2013

Income management comes under attack

The federal government continues to face fierce opposition to the income management regime, six years after it was first introduced as part of the controversial Northern Territory intervention. The Australian Greens led the charge on June 21, the anniversary of when then Howard government minister Mal Brough announced the legislation, which was then continued by the Labor government.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert described it as an expensive and unfair regime that continued to stigmatise people rather than help them.

She said the millions that had been spent on income management, both in the NT and at five trial sites, would have delivered far better outcomes for people had it been used to provide actual support and assistance, rather than just punishment.

“People affected by income management consistently speak about being stigmatised, ashamed and embarrassed. Hurting people in this way is never acceptable, but it is sadly typical of the top-down approach taken by the old parties,” Senator Siewert said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Council of Social Service, the National Welfare Rights Network and St Vincent de Paul Society joined forces to call on the government to dump the approach.

“It should be replaced with a genuinely voluntary scheme, which is part of a broader development plan in communities,” the heads of those organisations said in a statement.

They pointed to the costs of the regime, saying that a person subject to income management in the NT cost between $6,600 and $7,900 in remote areas, and $4,600 in the five trial sites. “More than half a billion dollars has been spent so far. The nearly $100 million per year would be better spent in partnership with Aboriginal people on programs that actually work in their communities,” they wrote.

They also warned that the regime was expanding. “The government is to rollout a major expansion of compulsory income management from July 1 in the five trial sites and the Northern Territory, with little warning and very limited consultation,” they wrote.

“Thousands of young people, including many fleeing violent and abusive families, may have their income support payments quarantined. The largest group impacted will be young people unable to live at home because of family violence and abuse.

“People aged under 25 leaving jail and moving to one of the ‘declared areas’ who claim a Crisis Payment and people under 16 claiming Special Benefit will also be targeted.

“Around 2,600 people in the NT and place-based sites who receive the ‘Unreasonable to Live at Home’ Youth Allowance are likely to be subjected to income management from July 1.

“No matter how well these young people are managing their financial affairs, they will be placed on income management just because they claim a certain payment and live at a specific location.

“This blanket approach is a step backwards to the early days of income management, when it targeted people on the basis of their Aboriginality. It will be harmful and hurtful to many young people.”

In Playford, South Australia, which is one of the five trial sites, a coalition of more than 40 organisations has formed to fight the introduction of income management into the area.

The coalition believes the $23 million that has been budgeted for income management in Playford should instead fund more community services that empower and build the skills of at-risk people, like anti-addiction programs, family therapy, financial counselling, and other support and training programs.

But despite the opposition, the federal government appears intent to continue the regime. Just recently, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced funding to investigate income management for Ceduna in South Australia as part of a broader package of measures to combat alcohol abuse in the area.

Koori Mail   

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